Saturday, April 28, 2012

SCULLY, I WANT TO BELIEVE


Recently, Marsha and I started watching ‘The X-files’ again, from the beginning. This was a TV show that lasted for nine seasons beginning in 1993. Characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully were FBI agents who investigated mysterious cases involving the paranormal. David Duchovny’s character ‘Fox Mulder’ was usually misunderstood by his peers for his belief in psychic powers and extra-terrestrial beings. His partner Dana Scully was a doctor who based her beliefs on the scientific method and rationalism.

Agent Mulder was epitomized by the phrase, ‘I want to believe’. The TV show was a good example of the transition in society from modernism to post-modernism. Modernists base their beliefs on rationalism. The post-modernist believes that rationalism cannot explain everything and a greater reality may exist outside the margin of our senses and accumulated knowledge.

A modernist like Dana Scully would look at the resurrection of Jesus Christ skeptically and demand a scientific explanation. Every claim must be substantiated and evidence must be accumulated. Even though every episode presented Dr. Scully with demanding proofs that the truth was out there, she always returned to her rationalism. She could not explain it from the truth she had learned, so she stopped short of believing.

When Jesus rose from the dead, there were those like Thomas who doubted the claims. Perhaps Thomas wanted to believe, but he needed some proof. Soon enough, Jesus visited him and he became a believer in Christ’s resurrection.

I have met people who want to believe in the resurrection of Jesus and others who do not want to believe.

N.T. Wright makes the assertion that rationalists have another option when a new reality emerges that cannot be explained by former thinking on the matter.

“Insofar as I understand scientific method, when something turns up that doesn’t fit the paradigm you’re working with, one option at least, perhaps when all others have failed, is to change the paradigm—not to exclude everything you’ve known to that point but to include it within a larger whole.”[i]

 While most paranormal activity and discussion about extra-terrestrials has been exposed as fraudulent fakery, the resurrection of Jesus Christ meets the expectations of historical validation. It really happened and a body of evidence exists to substantiate what Christians have claimed to be true for two millennia. Over five hundred eyewitnesses attested to having been in the company of a very physical and living Jesus after he had been put to a torturous death on a cross. The New Testament gospels meet the criteria of ancient historical documents. Other documents from non-Christian sources also attest to the testimony of these witnesses.

Each of the four gospels provide pieces of information that when combined give us a fuller explanation of the events surrounding the resurrection of Jesus. As believers we are not just looking to prove the reality, but to ask about the bigger picture. Resurrection is not an isolated event without connection to a larger purpose. The resurrection tells us how all of history changed in a moment and opened a new kind of world for us to live in—a world where the end is not the end. The experience of death opens the door to a new beginning of life.



[i] N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope, ©2008 Harper Collins, p.72

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

TOP 10 WAYS TO GET RICH FOLLOWING JESUS

Based on the numerous teachings of Jesus on wealth and poverty, I have come to some conclusions about how I’m going to get rich by following Jesus. Here is my personal list of what I’m learning:




      1. The most valuable things I have are stored in my heart. I can          take this treasure with me when I die.

      2. Humble self-assessment leads to the recognition of how God-poor I really am. There is always a great reward given when I seek God first.

      3. If I care for the needs of others, I become rich in relationships.

      4. I accumulate soul wealth when I quietly show generosity.

      5. My children grow rich in faith when they say me trust God to supply my needs.

      6. The less I have, the more I see God provide what I need.

      7. I trust God more and love money less.

      8. Contentment comes from trusting God and does not depend on my cash flow.

      9. I can get Grade 'A' produce and tasty breads free of charge at New Song Church. There’s enough resource in the world to end poverty for everyone.

      10. Nothing I have has a deep hold on me. I am free to share everything I have.


But let’s not forget. The purpose of Kingdom wealth is to bring God’s deep gladness to the whole earth. We are called to invest everything in God’s Plan to restore Creation.

We live in the age of hints and allegations that the King is coming. When Jesus comes back every account will be balanced. All of oppression of the poor and injustice will be reversed.

Mercy will finally triumph over judgment. I live for that day.



Monday, April 23, 2012

BAD NEWS FOR THE RICH


There are many followers of Jesus, who have deaf ears to the next words of Jesus. 

As He addresses the rich, we automatically go in our minds to people that are richer than we are.


The poorest always can point to someone who is poorer and the rich can always point to someone who is better off.

When we hear the words of Jesus, let’s not only think about our socio-economic status. Poverty and wealth are not written in dollar signs. The world would have us believe that we can measure our success and failure by comparing to others.

There are incredibly rich poor people and dreadfully poor rich people. We are a church of low-income earners. We are often cash-strapped but rich in deep gladness. Jesus wants us to hear a deeper message about the inward wealth that comes from Heaven and the poverty of Spirit that finds resolve in God.

Luke 6:
   24 “But woe to you who are rich,
   for you have already received your comfort.
25 Woe to you who are well fed now,
   for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
   for you will mourn and weep.
26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
   for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.


At the end of the statement against the rich, we see another reference to the ancient prophets. Actually, it is a reference to the false prophets.

There is a false message that people want to hear. The false sermon says:

      1.     You have every reason to live for self-interest. It’s all about you and there’s nothing you cannot have if you are willing to go after it.

      2.     You are secure and will never have to go without. Good people don’t go hungry.

      3.     You should feel good all the time because you are successful. Don’t focus on the suffering of others in case they bring you down.


In Jesus’ words we find the collision between self-interest and self-effacement. In Jesus’ life we find the generosity of Heaven where the Greatest became the Least. The deep gladness of Heaven was spent on the hunger of the world in the gift of God’s Son.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

GOOD NEWS FOR THE POOR


Luke 6:
20 Looking at his disciples, he said:   “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
   23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

In these verses we can see the essence of Jesus’ deep gladness.

    1.     It will get better than it presently is. The inequity and sorrow of the world will change as the Kingdom of God comes to earth.
    2.  You are in good company. If the ancient prophets were also oppressed, God has a message to bring through your poverty.

The poor of Jesus’ time were usually people who had no power in society. The rich were powerful through various means. Tax collectors were notorious for overcharging and getting rich in this way. The Roman government taxed farmers requiring 2/3 of the produce as payment for owning the lands the local people worked. There were no welfare programs for the disabled, orphaned or widowed. If you were unable to work you had to depend on family to provide for you. If you had no family, you would beg and steal to survive.

Deep gladness for the poor is found in belonging to the Kingdom of God. In this Kingdom, we take care of the most vulnerable and create a new kind of family. When we experience the deep gladness of Jesus, we cannot help but enrich the lives of others by impoverishing our own lives. We quietly delight in opportunities to be generous in the lives of others.

Monday, April 16, 2012

WWJD WITH THE ONTARIO PROVINCIAL BUDGET?


In Ontario, a single person receives under $600 per month if they are on social assistance. With that amount they are expected to pay rent, buy groceries, travel to job interviews and take care of essential needs.

If that single person is disabled, Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) pays up to $979 per month.[i]

If you qualify to receive this government assistance, it is likely that you have been unable to find employment that will provide better than this. Even if you work full-time at a job paying minimum wage, you will still make an annual income that falls below the poverty line.

If you have special dietary needs because of a health condition, food allergy or disease you may qualify for up to an additional $250 per month.

On March 26th in Toronto, Doctor Roland Wong appeared before the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario for a disciplinary hearing to determine whether he followed professional standards in prescribing the special food allowance to more than 14,000 patients.[iii]



He did this so that poor people could eat healthy food. He is being investigated to see if he stretched the rules in order to provide nutrition to people who did not qualify to eat healthy.

Dr. Wong did not come to his hearing alone. ‘His poor supporters rolled in with walkers, combat boots and a red banner that declared “Raise Welfare and Disability Rates.” ‘[iv]

It is well documented that poverty and poor health go together. The more money you have, the greater the likelihood of living longer and healthier. If you address poverty, you reduce the need for healthcare.

In one of the richest nations of the world, we do not provide enough for our most vulnerable citizens. With the current release of the Ontario budget, there is a freeze on social assistance and disability allowances.

In a press release this past week, a group known as ‘Doctors And Lawyers For Fair Taxation’ [v]appealed to finance minister Dwight Duncan to have fair taxation practices. They are high wage earners who are saying ‘Tax us. We can afford it.’ They recognize that taxation most affects the poorest.

If there are doctors and lawyers who feel a responsibility to the poor, what is to be our response to addressing poverty and equity issues?

New Song Church identifies itself as a group of people called by God to get involved in poverty. This is a passion for us. People who attend this church long term tend to have compassion for the well being of others.

The theologian Frederick Buechner said, ‘The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet.’[vi]

I hope that you have discovered the deep gladness that comes from God and responded to the hunger of the world.

As followers of Jesus Christ, how are we to live in response to the world around us? The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for the poor and bad news for the rich. Is Jesus bringing you good news or bad?

Friday, April 13, 2012

IRREVERSIBLE FOCUS


Once you begin your journey, you cannot be sentimental for the good old days. The Jews in the Wilderness lamented their path and wanted to go back to slavery to spice up their diet. Lot’s wife had a difficult time leaving the past behind and lost her life instead of moving forward.

The next conversation involved a man having difficulty making the transition. Following Jesus captured his attention, but he felt the need to explain himself to the family. Could he really run home and say good-bye? Would he not face well-meaning family who would talk him out of it or try to load him down with luggage?

The Lord who knows the heart could see that this man was stalling and torn between priorities. Prophet Jesus says:

Luke 9:
 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”


These are harsh words, but they pierce the heart. Everyone knew that a plowman had to look to the end of the field to do the job right. This was not a job for people who were easily distracted and drawn away to other things.

What is off to the side pulling you away from your call to be a disciple? Those who would follow Jesus learn to move forward with focus. The illustration of the plow speaks of a dedicated task.

Disciples cannot back off from the task. Discipleship is not a second job, a moonlighting task, an ice-cream social or a hobby. It is the product of God's calling and should be pursued with appropriate seriousness.[i]

Have you decided to follow Jesus? 




[i] IVP New Testament Commentary

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

THIS BUSINESS OF LIVING



The next conversation involves Jesus asking someone to become a disciple. While part of the call is enticing, the man is torn. He has to deal with the passing of his father and it takes priority over becoming a disciple.

In words that remind me of Ezekiel’s response to the death of his wife, Jesus speaks with shock value of a true prophet.




Luke 9:
 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”


Jesus is not preaching against funeral customs or the stages of grief. We find him present with death on more than one occasion. But, he is speaking to the one who is not ready to commit. Today, it might be your father’s funeral but tomorrow will be another person needing your commitment. If you are to be a follower of Jesus, the call supersedes what other people expect of you.

Your life will sometimes put you at odds with the spiritual death and societal expectations of conformity. Like a prophet who lives provocatively in a dying culture, you will be about the business of eternal life. Your message as a Jesus follower will be good news of resurrection and new life.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

AT HOME WITH THE HOMELESS




Luke 9:
 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”


“I will follow you wherever you go as long as my expenses are covered and I have some guarantee of hospitality.” I know I have turned down some offers for those reasons. I only hope that I wasn’t turning down Jesus in the process.

The Teacher describes himself as not having a place to lay his head. He did not have property or a permanent residence. We find him in the gospel accounts living as a couch surfer and nomadic wanderer. The one who follows expecting that Jesus will lead to comfort and wealth, take heed.

You cannot truly follow Jesus without a willingness to sleep in a storm-tossed boat or next to a campfire in the wilderness of temptation. You will learn to receive the hospitality of strangers and refreshment from foreigners. The rest of Creation might be able to bunk down in the comfort of one’s own nest, but you will have uncertain comfort.

Jesus’ words remind us that we are not truly at home in a fallen planet. Our home is being built and we are aliens and foreigners in the meantime. Like the prodigal son we journey from the pigpen to our Father’s house with dirty feet and corn breath. But, we know that there is a home for humble servants and trust the Father’s goodness.

The most comfortable people are threatened by the thought of experiencing homelessness. On the other hand, the disenfranchised find comfort in knowing that Jesus knows all about their troubles.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

WAR-TIME COMMITMENT


When Jesus came along, some said he was a prophet. He spoke the words of God and had disciples who served alongside. He foretold incredible things and performed miracles, just as the ancient prophets had done.

A few recognized that Jesus was the Messiah, but most thought of him as a great teacher and prophet sent by God. There were other teachers with disciples, but this rabbi was strangely unique. With an invitation to follow, he spoke of great risk.

His prophetic words would separate the devoted from the mere fans and wannabees.

Luke 9:
57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.”
 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
 59 He said to another man, “Follow me.”
   But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”
 61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.”
 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”


With three conversations, Jesus reveals the demands of being in His good company. The romantic dreamers will be waylaid in the path of the Suffering Servant. It would serve us well to examine the words of Jesus here to understand the wartime commitment that is being called for.

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